Blog 93 05/04/2020 A LITERARY WORLD: An Interview with Marina Osipova
A LITERARY WORLD
An Interview with Marina Osipova
Today’s guest on A Literary World is author, Marina Osipova. Marina and I got to know one another through our shared interest in WWII. She is a graduate of the Moscow State Institute of History and Archives and also graduated from the Moscow Institute for Foreign Languages as a German language interpreter. She also worked for a Soviet Governmental Department in the section of International Affairs, then for various German and Austrian firms. Extensive travel to these countries gave her chance to become intimately familiar with the lands and the people that she writes about. So, without more ado, make yourself comfortable and let Marina transport you into her writing world.
Welcome to A Literary World, Marina, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where do you live and when did you start writing?
May I call myself a cosmopolitan? I was born in East Germany (the credit goes to my parents), lived in the Soviet Union, which became Russia, then seventeen years in the United States, and now, rather unexpectedly, have found myself in the beautiful, mountainous Austria. But the place I started writing was the United States.
What is it that inspires you to write about WWII?
A difficult and an easy question to answer. Difficult because I can’t explain in words what initially prompted me to write about WWII. It was like a feeling, an irresistible push to explore the subject of the war. Easy because it’s such an immense field of history that I think it will never be explored to the bottom and never cease to interest people. Another reason is that there are not so many novels about the Soviet population suffering, fighting, and surviving under those terrible circumstances. Delving into this theme made me broaden the geography: events in my books evolve not only in the Soviet territory but also in Germany as they do in The Cruel Romance and How Dare the Birds Sing.
Can you tell us about your other WWII novels and where are they set?
My first published book, The Cruel Romance tells the story of four young people on their different paths through WWII. The fates of a Russian country girl, a Soviet intelligence officer, a German violinist, and a Russian intellectual are irrevocably intertwined in the war not of their choice, forcing them to navigate the unconscionable moral compromises of life. Who will survive? And at what price? The story’s conclusion is set in our time.
How Dare The Birds Sing takes readers across the 1930s Stalinist Soviet Union and WWII in a tale whose characters are bound by secrets, love, hatred, and unthinkable quirks of fate.
About the short story Order No.227 From Stalin with Love, I’d like to tell with the words of a remarkable author whose literary works about WWII I cherish and admire, Ellie Midwood, “Set in war-ravaged and post WW2 USSR, it examines human nature in the direst of circumstances and demonstrates how far human kindness can go and how much it can change.” The story is based on my grandfather’s history.
Can you tell us about your latest novel?
My latest novel, which is part of the collection The Road to Liberation to be published on May 5th, titled Too Many Wolves in the Local Woods is set in Russia as well as in Byelorussia, one of the Soviet Union’s Republics at that time.
What sort of research did the story require?
Despite the fact that I’m Russian and the subject is familiar and close to my heart, every new story requires extensive research. Some of the places I use as the background are the cities I lived in or visited. Not so with Vitebsk in which the most significant events of the last story unfolded. I couldn’t find any city maps from that time and it was—although exciting—a time-consuming task to set a believable background. If only that! There was also the atmosphere of the occupied city, the rules imposed on the local population, the ghetto, the labor camps and stalags where Soviet POWs were held, the collaborationists and the resistance members, even the names of the newspapers. It can’t be invented. So, I had to read a significant number of non-fiction materials and memoirs of contemporaries to present a picture based on facts.
Are the characters based on real people?
In Too Many Wolves in the Local Woods, there is a secondary character whose life was based on a real person (as it was told by my mother), but his story was a story of thousands of Soviet people in the 1930s. All other characters, including the main ones, are the result of my imagination, and this is true for my other books.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing about WWII?
Truth and authenticity. But what is the truth if every side has had their own story and even scholars still argue about the nature of events and historical figures? Of course, we novelists try to write as close as possible to the reality of that time based on our research. Still, no words can express all the horror that every individual person involved lived through. I don’t talk about Russians only but about the millions of people in all the war-stricken countries. Not only during WWII. Any war brings devastation to nations and individuals.
Do you think fiction helps us understand the past?
It seems to me that we, novelists, strive first of all to awake interest in history. And yes, I consider it important to learn about the past.
Who are your favourite authors?
The Russian classics—Pushkin, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoevsky to name a few. Besides, there are so many brilliant contemporary authors writing about WWII that I think mentioning only a few would be unfair unless you are ready to provide space on your blog just for that list. Your name, Kathryn, would be among them.
What is your favourite WWII movie?
If you allow me to name two, they are Generation War (UnsereMütter, unsereVäter), which glued me to the screen at least four times already, and the one I watched just recently: A Hidden Life.
Do you have a favourite piece of music from the WWII era?
I love the song “Lili Marlene” that I mentioned in The Cruel Romance, as well as dozens of Russian songs of that era that bring me to tears regardless of how many times I’ve heard them. I would rather say, regardless of how many years (many) I keep listening to them. No kidding.
Темная ночь – Temnaya noch – Dark is the night, 1943 (Russian Love Song)
What’s next for you?
I just started working on another book in which the events evolve against the backdrop of WWII, but since it’s in the phase of research and has even no working title yet, I think it would be premature to talk about it.
Excerpt from How Dare the Birds Sing. That’s how the book starts.
She raised her face toward the sky, absorbing its shining radiance into her soul, which opened wide to welcome it.
How could the sky be as strikingly blue here as it was at home? And the lonely birch behind the coiled wire fence, so tenderly green? And the breeze like a promise of life, so light and delicate upon her cheek?
She held her breath. A bird’s song, floating on the air, came in honey-sweet waves toward the earth, to be heard by those still living.
Had she ever heard a bird sing with such ecstasy?
Then . . .
A scream like a helpless animal, a long, drawn-out, tormented agonizing wail.
The fierce barking of German shepherds.
A machine gun burst.
A moment of a horrible, swelling, billowing silence.
A broken whisper, “How dare the birds sing?”
Thank you, Kathryn, for inviting me to participate in your interview. A big honor for me. I can’t help but admit that I loved your Code Name Camille and look forward to reading more.
Thank you so much being a guest on A Literary World, Marina. Your insight into the Soviet experience of WWII has really wet my interest to read all your books. I agree with you about Generation War. It was excellent. Now I’ve added A Hidden Life to my film list too. And I love the Soviet WWII love song. Poignant and haunting. I wish you every success with the launch of The Road to Liberation: Trial and Tribulations of WWII. A Collection and continued success with all your future endeavors.